Dot Gov, p.1Victor Allen
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Copyright © 2014
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“I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favorable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”
Sandra Lamb would have thought having breakfast with an NSA analyst would have been a bit of cloak and dagger, but she met him at an open air café on a Monday morning in Baltimore, fifteen miles south of the main NSA headquarters on Savage Rd. in Fort Meade, Maryland. She had made the thirty mile drive from a DC suburb in the clean light of a crisp, April morning. She had met with the man before, but knew him only as JB, a pair of initials which was, she was sure, an inside joke, as in “James Bond”.
Sandra was a co-anchor for a local DC midday news team, and she was itching for something big. JB had delivered a couple of small things in the past, but it was unusual for him to contact her, and she suspected he had something hot.
He had arrived before her, which was typical. Probably a spook thing. She parked her car and hurried over to the crosswalk. Her white skirt hugged to her hips and tummy and her shoulder length hair fluttered around her face in the morning breeze. She had long ago given up the idea of going braless in a ribbed t-shirt and sporting unshaved legs and armpit hair to match her chin stubble as a sign of her liberation. It never hurt to look like a stone cold fox when you were trying to get information from a man.
She clicked her way across the street in her high heels. Morning-rush traffic, with its honking horns and revving engines, was accepted as just another sound one wakes up to in the city, as unexciting as chirping sparrows or droning insects. JB’s cup of black coffee still steamed in the sparkling Spring cool and he had eaten about half of his breakfast of sausage, eggs and pancakes.
She sat down at his table, taking off her sunglasses, and ordered a latte.
“You have something for me?”
JB put down his fork and dabbed at his mouth with a napkin. He had the smooth, unlined brow that comes with a clear conscience and untroubled sleep. He was about her age, thirty, with a sort of entitled, Ivy League flavor about him. She knew better than to ask him exactly what he did, but looking at him -his average height and looks, fairly good suit, even though it was not bespoken, and cool demeanor- really gave no clue to whether he was an inscrutable shaman of computer geekery or a wet work wonk. She just couldn’t tell.
“What would it be worth,” he asked, “to have an inside scoop on the hottest of hot button issues?”
Sandra’s green eyes kindled with interest. “Terrorism?”
“Even better. Home-grown terrorism. Right here in the Baltimore-DC area.”
“What’s it going to cost me?”
“How about,” JB said. “Dinner at your place this weekend? I’ll bring the wine.”
“Seriously,” Sandra said, but she was smiling. “You’re strong-arming a date out of me?”
“Once I give you this,” JB predicted, “you’ll want to have my babies. Just keep your phone handy and have a remote crew ready to go. I’ll give you chapter and verse when it goes down.”
JB entered his office at precisely nine a.m. He worked on the second floor of the NSA building and had a security clearance and protocol that bordered on the absurd. Access to his work station was a three step process which had to be performed in a precise sequence. First, an RFID scanner read the frequency transmitted by a microchip implanted in his shoulder. On a prompt, JB had to enter a twelve character, case-sensitive ID code -made up of upper and lower case letters, numerals, and special characters- assigned to the chip. Upon acceptance of this pass-string, another scanner read a bar code tattooed in invisible ink on the inside of his right forearm. Upon acceptance of this bar code, a third prompt instructed him to submit a similar, but different bar code, tattooed on the inside of his left forearm. Only after all bar codes and pass phrases matched when presented in this precise sequence was JB allowed to boot his heavily encrypted work station.
He sat down at his terminal. The NSA’s acronym was fair fodder for the anti-government nut jobs. JB had heard them all from “Nothing’s Secret Anymore,” to “No-One’s Safe Anywhere.” JB thought the latter a little unfair, but that really wasn’t his orbit. He was a problem solver, not an operator. His newest problem had been dropped in his lap a week before his meeting this morning with Sandra.
The previous Monday an aide for the senate majority whip - one of the senators from Maryland- had presented himself at his office.
“I have,” he said, “a problem.”
JB commiserated. “Sit down,” he invited.
“There is,” the aide said, “a troublesome little apple farmer in Hamlet, Maryland. Name of Jack Benny Hicks. The senator needs his farm. A matter of national security. We tried buying it, he wouldn’t sell. We tried appealing to his patriotic spirit. He wouldn’t sell. So we brought out the big guns and sent the Bureau of Land Management down there to evict him for wetland destruction. He hired a lawyer who found a friendly judge to issue an injunction. He is, in short, a thorn in the senator’s paw.”
“I see,” JB said. “Might I ask what the National Security interest is?”
“That’s outside of your pay grade, soldier,” the pompous gadfly sitting across from him said, exercising all the puffery a lowly footling could muster up.
“Of course,” JB said, keeping a poker face. He felt no burning need to tell the self-important paper-pusher sitting across from him that, with just fifteen minutes at a keyboard, he -JB- could collect enough dirt to rocket him into legal and financial oblivion. It was advisable to hold some things close to the vest.
“There is a time issue,” the aide said carefully. “We unfortunately cannot go through due process. I’m told you can... move people from their positions. Is that true?”
“Sometimes,” JB said, “things just seem to fall my way. What do you need?”
“Political cover, for one. We can’t have the public seeing the senator as some evil bankster hustling the Joads off the back forty at bayonet point. But we need the land. How it comes into our possession, and how it looks to the press, I’ll leave to your judgment. But it needs to be soon.”
“Give me a week,” JB said. “I’ll see what I can do.”
The two men stood up and shook hands over JB’s work station.
“I’ll be in touch,” JB said.
In the intervening week, JB had gotten the skinny on the players involved. The shifty aide was Andrew Shoat, a disagreeable little parasite who would lick up his boss’s vomit like a dog if instructed to do so. A species as common in DC as leeches were in Miami, and just as bloodsucking. He wasn’t worth JB’s time,
His boss, however, the senate majority whip, was a more substantial kind of pig. Dean Savage had all the style-marks of a venal little pirate. Ambitious, greedy, and not overly bright. It took only a little data mining to discover that the farm he so earnestly desired was the last parcel in a block of real estate which a Canadian development firm wished to acquire. Being a foreign company, they needed to cultivate a high-ranking politico to smooth the way with the United States government and they had to do it in a manner that wasn’t seen as rent-seeking. So they had contacted Savage in a circumspect fashion and offered him a bargain which would better the congressman’s financial lot to the tune of a ten percent stake in the strip mall they planned to build, provided the senator could get clear title. But the Canadian firm’s patience wasn’t unlimited. Their investors had itchy palms who would be more than happy to drop their cash elsewhere if the deal couldn’t be consummated.
Savage, as clueless as he was greedy, failed to see through the transparent deal and jumped at the dangled bait. Eager to prove his political value, he was hooked immediately, but hadn’t counted on the obstinance of Jack Benny Hicks, a regular guy who just wanted to keep the orchard in his family. JB tutted to himself at this naiveté, but it wasn’t his place to judge. He had a job to do.
As presented, Jack Benny Hicks was a middle-aged orchardist whose family had lived peacefully and uneventfully on the same hundred acres for a century until this most recent dust-up with the Bureau of Land Management. He was probably totally bewildered over what had befallen him with goose-stepping government goons descending on his farm as well as packs of lawyers oozing out of the woodwork like slavering wolves. It was, regrettably, about to get much worse.
JB went to work. He had gathered the information he needed and recorded all the passwords and legal document ID numbers on the aforementioned Jack Benny Hicks during the previous week. All that was left was execution.
He inserted a flash drive into a USB port on his work station and booted his system from it. On the flash drive was a complete open source operating system with server and encrypted networking capabilities. The entire OS ran in RAM and any files, executables, or logs would only be saved, at JB’s discretion, on the encrypted flash drive which JB would pocket when he was finished. Nothing ever touched the internal hard drive. His work station was its own server and Internet connections would be made using a virtual IP address. As far as the network was concerned, the IP address was a real, physical machine, but, in fact, it existed only in the ether. Information packets would be routed anonymously from the virtual IP address to the OS running inside RAM and be processed there. Everything JB did was executed in real time, with only electrons streaming back and forth inside physical memory. Once JB logged off, all traces would simply vanish like vapor in an electronic gasp.
Regular as clockwork on April 8th of every year, according to Jack Benny Hicks’ credit card statements spread out on JB’s monitor, Hicks bought a thousand pounds of fertilizer and a thousand gallons of farm grade diesel fuel. It was a special, red-dyed fuel earmarked only for agricultural use. JB had seen the form Hicks had on file with the Dept. of Agriculture that allowed him to buy the fuel.
This April 8th seemed no different as Jack Hicks engaged the route finding service of the company that monitored his vehicle, a two ton, fairly new truck that was financed, according to the credit reporting agencies, through the vehicle manufacturer’s own credit arm, the financing arm itself subsidized by government-backed guarantees. As a matter of course, the financing company had taken out a life insurance policy in the amount of the vehicle’s purchase price. That was standard practice. What interested JB was a more recent policy in the amount of $100,000 which had been taken out only days before, the first premium already credited. That was a common practice for suicide bombers. Combine that with diesel oil and fertilizer and you had an interesting scenario developing.
In a separate frame on his monitor, JB saw the route marked out on the mapping service, with the notation that there was no new construction or detours on the route. Hicks had not opted for the black box info from his vehicle to be transmitted in real time to law enforcement authorities, a feature pushed by certain insurance companies as a fillip to gain lower rates. Still, the information was accessible. The vehicle monitoring companies were bound in true pay to play fashion by security agreements with the US government to allow access to their data streams. Play ball with Uncle Sam, or lose the frequency bandwidth for your service.
Jack Benny Hicks was already halfway to his destination, Marty’s Feed and Seed in Hobb’s Ferry, Maryland, when JB logged into his communications. The data for speed, braking habits, seconds at full stop, and acceleration curves displayed in a steady stream on JB’s monitor.
On the route map on JB’s screen, Hicks’ vehicle was indicated by a flashing, green vector arrow. Midways on the black line, an ominous circle of blue stayed stationary on the meandering mark, as if awaiting some fateful rendezvous.
Jack had made the fifty mile trip to Marty’s Feed and Seed in a sort of a funk, watching the sun crest over the Mantagua river and begin its westward journey. From the time he had awakened this morning, he had felt as if he had been tracked by some eerie, minor key melody that accompanied him like an uncordial spirit. He was distracted. It wasn’t as if he had debated whether going on this yearly ritual was even necessary, but he had to maintain some sense of routine while he worked things out in his head.
It was all fraying. The America he had once known (or thought he had known) seemed to have been consumed like flash paper, leaving behind less than ash. Being not that far from DC, drone flights as part of the Civil Air Patrol were common. He could see one, even now, before it had gotten up to altitude, flying out of Andrews Air Force base. It would circle around in its sector from Baltimore to Hagerstown, unseen and even unknown by most. He tried to stay away from DC (the District of Criminals), but he occasionally had to make the trip there, as well as New York and Boston. As a matter of convenience, he’d had a pay pass transmitter installed on his vehicle so his tolls could be automatically deducted from his bank account. You just clipped the little black box to your sun visor. He never even considered that his every move and location could be pinpointed to the second by the transponders. He didn’t know that when he went to the airports or visited a bank, the detectors could count the money in his wallet from the magnetic strips embedded in the bills and, if it was determined that he was carrying an “inordinate” amount of cash, he could be arrested as a drug dealer, terrorist, or organized crime figure. Whatever fit the narrative of the moment. But Jack still believed. This was America. It wasn’t a surveillance state.
Still, on his forays into the cities, he had been shocked to see on the subways and street corners the odd military men -always in pairs- in full combat gear, cradling fully automatic weapons, as if DC were Tel Aviv or some third world hellhole. Police forces all across the country had up-armed and up-armored, and he really wasn’t sure why.
And this most recent thing, the attempted coup d'etat of his farm, had come completely out of the blue. Maybe the Feds had found Uranium or something in the area. It was nothing so profound as Saul on the road to Damascus, but he was beginning to see things he thought he would never see.
He eased around the hairpin turn just before the Rollsback bridge. The drop off wasn’t straight down to the river, but it was steep, and it was rocky, and it was about a hundred feet. No cataclysmic gorge and maybe that was why proper guard rails had never been installed.
With the bridge behind him, he tried to listen to the radio and enjoy the latter half of the fifty mile drive. The news came on with the first minute devoted to the stock market at an all time high, the US National debt now at seventeen trillion dollars, and hot wars going on in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Ukraine. The next three minutes were dedicated to basketball and hockey scores, the latest results from American Idol, and the continuing sad
At 10:30 a.m., Jack Benny Hicks pulled out of Marty’s Feed and Seed, his truck loaded with a thousand gallons of diesel fuel and a half ton of fertilizer. JB had seen the purchases logged and recorded in real time with both Hicks’ credit card company, and the US Dept. of Agriculture. Had he wanted, JB mused, Hicks could have bypassed the credit card entirely and paid with his phone. The Statist masturbatory fantasy of a cashless society with everyone being plugged into a central database had almost been realized. From his searches of the past week, JB had noted that Hicks had opted out of an initiative by the school his three children attended to implant ID and tracking chips in the students. It was simply forestalling the inevitable. Most people now voluntarily took their GPS locators and personal ID chips with them in their phones. Who needed to implant them? Most people couldn’t function without them. With the arrival of personal banking apps on their phones, it would be a small matter, if necessary, to completely cut a person off from all their funding. All in the name of national security, of course.
It still baffled JB a little. Only the most fatuous would believe that the revelations of the logging of Americans’ private electronic communications stopped at simply storing metadata, but -good for people like JB- most Americans were content to swallow that very tripe. Most understood there was no NSA operative poring over their every phone call, email, porn viewing habits, or other personal data trail. What they didn’t seem to get was that all this information was cataloged, collated and stored, to be called up to use at anytime if someone became a problem. That selfie you sexted to your girlfriend twenty years ago? You might have thought it was gone, but it was still there the minute you tried to run for political office. That gay porn site you accidentally stumbled on? Saved on raw server logs at your ISP, ammunition to be used against you with your wife if the need arose. That anti-government rant you wrote and emailed privately to friends? That likely put you on a watch list.
Dot Gov by Victor Allen / History & Fiction have rating 4.5 out of 5 / Based on18 votes